23rd Sunday after Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for today, our Lord is asked directly, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ Our answer is this: ‘We must love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength, and with all our mind; and we must love our neighbor as our self.’
We are to love God with our entire being, with all that we are.
Our love for God must not just be something that engages our mind… intellectually loving Him, loving to think about Him and to debate theological topics. This overly intellectual approach simply makes us ‘armchair Christians’.
We have to get up and love Him with all our strength as well… resisting temptation with determination and will, getting our hands dirty with service to others, donating our time and talents to the Church.
And even if we have our minds occupied with the things of God and devote our time and energies to the service of God and others, if we are not engaging our heart and soul in the love of God, we fall short. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul:
‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.’
Think about what our Lord is teaching us in today’s Gospel parable of the Good Samaritan. After the poor man fell prey to the thieves and lay beaten on the side of the road, he was passed over by a Priest and a Levite. Surely a Priest and a Levite (one of the priestly class of Israel) would be dedicated in service to God. But who does the Lord praise and hold out as an example in this parable? It is the lowly Samaritan who, with a heart of compassion, attends to the poor man and sees to his tender care and recovery.
Our Lord Jesus Christ emphasizes this message of compassionate love over and over again. It is not the person who dresses up in fancy robes and pious looking hats that will be saved… it is the person who loves God with all of his mind, strength, heart, and soul.
In addition to loving the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength, and with all our mind - we must love our neighbor as our self.
I know I have mentioned this point before, but it is a critically important one… Please notice that our Lord does not tell us to ‘love mankind’… He tells us to love our neighbor. Loving ‘mankind’ is so abstract and sanitary and safe… it is in the call to love the one right in front of us that things get very messy and very demanding. Your neighbor is that annoying person who is distracting you during church. Your neighbor is your wife, your husband, your child, your parent, your brother, your sister. Christ specifically calls us to love those flesh and blood people right in front of us, those very ones who most effectively challenge our patience and get in the way of our self-centered love. This is why Christ sets before us the Good Samaritan - who inconveniences himself, who gets his hands dirty by pouring on oil and wine into the wounds of the beaten man, who empties his pockets to pay for the lodging and recovery of the needy one set before him.
Following this instructive parable, our Lord asks the young man: ‘Which of these do you think was a neighbor to him who fell among thieves?’ The young man replied: ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ And our Lord Jesus Christ then tells him and all of us: ‘Go and do likewise.’
This is Christ’s command to all of us. He demonstrates that loving disposition of heart which shows mercy on our neighbor and He exorts us to ‘Go and do likewise.’
True Christianity, lived out as Christ wants us to live it, is a challenge. A life following Christ’s commandments to love God and to love others will always makes us uncomfortable because it calls us to force aside that ever powerful tendency to please ourselves first and foremost. It calls us to forgive and have mercy on others. It calls us to love those who may not behave in a way that is very loveable. Compassionate love doesn’t seek anything for itself, it is a courageous and determined one-way street of kindness and gentleness of spirit pouring out of a heart filled with grace.
May we strive to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength; and to love our neighbor as our self. This commandment must not be placed on the shelf of idealism, it must be strenuously practiced in our day to day lives – each day and each hour and each moment, as our beloved St Herman of Alaska has said.
Christ has given us a call to action. We are to ‘go’ and we are to ‘do’ the work and the will of God. That work and that will of God are to show mercy and to be God’s love in action in our daily lives. May God grant that this be so!